VISHAKHAPATANAM : As the curtain goes up to unveil Season 3 of the now popular Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League at the Rajeev Gandhi Sports Complex here yesterday, the opener promises to be a lip smacking affair with defending champions U Mumba, looking formidable as ever taking on a well prepared Telugu Titans on home turf. The second matchtomorrow night will pit Dabang Delhi who missed the semis last season versus Bengaluru Bulls. The latter are in the process of rebuilding after a big exodus of stars who had challenged the might of U Mumba in the last finals at Mumbai.
U Mumba having E Bhaskaran, a hard task master as their coach will be a fit side after their long drawn conditioning camp in Kerala. Add to that the genius of their ‘captain cool’ Anup Kumar and the stable combination they have evolved over last two years with Shabbir Bapu Sharfudeen the man with the Midas touch as one of their mainstays. Wasn’t he responsible in turning the tables on the Bengaluru Bulls, with that swift move to decide the title?
They have an all-rounder Rishank Devadiga, the do-or-die raid specialist, two good corner men in Surendar Nada and Mohit Chillar and the ever reliable old war-horse Jeeva Kumar bolstering the defence. U Mumba have also strengthened their attacking arsenal by adding former India captain Rakesh Kumar who was with the Patna Pirates.
The Titans too have added muscle to their weak defence, roping in the 40-year old Dharmaraj Cheralathan. They have tremendous faith in him. They have made him the leader. Iranian Meraj Shaikh who impressed the supporters, tall and well-built Prashant Rai, do-or-die raid specialist Sukesh Hegde are all there to pose a few questions to the visitors. The other important thing for Titans is to overcome the loss of the league’s best attacker Rahul Chaudhari. That man was single-handedly responsible in giving Uttar Pradesh its maiden title in the National Championships a few weeks ago.
Home support will be a crucial factor but haven’t U Mumba surmounted that on numerous occasions in the past two seasons while finishing runners-up and winners?
Dabang Delhi is a potent force this season with a sharp attack. Kashiling Adake the ‘jumping jack’, dreaded by opposition defences will be more than a handful and so will be Wazir Singh the lone ranger who fought many a battle for Puneri Paltans. Don’t be surprised if Wazir employs those running kicks on his rivals with the same ease.
Bengaluru will also have to contend with Rohit Chaudhari known for his bull-dozing tactics as a raider. The threat of the technically sound and cunning Pravin Niwale in the Dabang attack too cannot be overlooked. How Delhi coach Honappa Gowda an intelligent player with a lightweight physique guides and employs Pravin will be worth watching.
Ravinder Pahal, the best defender last season will lead Dabangs. His dare devilry and precision in catching will pose a tremendous threat to the Bangalore attackers. The latter’s hitmen Surjeet Narwal, their captain and Amit Rathi a Pune import haven’t exactly set the stadium on fire in the limited appearances in the league. Surjeet was not a regular with Delhi and here he has been asked to lead the side too. Shrikant Tewthia his erstwhile teammate from the capital gives some strength to the defence but the loss of captain and ace all-rounder Manjit Chillar, veterans Dharmaraj Cheralathan, Rajesh Mondal and corner man Joginder Narwal will be too big a void to fill for the team from the garden city.
If U Mumba true to their reputation fire on all cylinders it will be a test by fire for Telugu Titans. If the hosts pull an upset that will surely make them as one of the top contenders but it’s too early to make a prediction in a league spanning 56 matches over a period of five weeks. Bangalore’s task is cut out against Dabang Delhi the favourites. The latter must guard against complacency which affected their chances last season.